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US to Europe Airline Tickets: How Far In Advance to Purchase?

We're booked on a Rick Steves Best of Europe 21-day tour beginning August 26, 2022 - flying Columbus, OH into Amsterdam and then returning Paris to Columbus. I have a 24-hour hold on a flight through Expedia but found out that even though I booked through Delta, the tickets are actually on 3 different airlines: Delta, Virgin Atlantic and Air France. Even though I set the filter for "No Change Fees", after calling Delta and looking at the Virgin Atlantic website, it seems that these tickets are Economy class and no changes are allowed. My concern is that if we need to change the flight for some reason or if Virgin Atlantic goes bankrupt, we may be stuck with useless tickets. The recommendation since the pandemic has been to purchase tickets which will issue a credit if we can not take the flight but the search sites such as Expedia and Kayak seem to only pull the Economy fares or the exhorbitant refundable fares.

So, with all of that, I have a few questions:

1) Is it too far in advance to be purchasing plane tickets for August 2022 with all the changes and upheaval in the airline industry?

2) How far in advance do you begin looking for tickets from the US to Europe and how do you decide when to "pull the trigger?

3) What is the best way to protect oneself against losing money on airline tickets if an unexpected change is needed or if the airline shuts down service completely? I would prefer to book on American or Delta so that we have more choices if we need to use the credit but many of the flights are with international carriers.

Posted by
1237 posts

It’s too far in advance and order directly from the airline not through Expedia, Kayak, etc. I use Google flights to find a good airfare and then order directly from the airline.

Posted by
6878 posts

Is it too far in advance to be purchasing plane tickets for August 2022 with all the changes and upheaval in the airline industry?

No and Yes

No, if the price does not make you cringe and your ticket is fully refundable and has no fees for changes.

Yes if you have a lot of flexibility, you need a lot to fly these days. I have never booked a trip to Europe more than 3 months in advance, but I could be in a planning stage 4 or 5 months out.

How far in advance do you begin looking for tickets from the US to Europe and how do you decide when to "pull the trigger?

3 months in advance. More times than not I find an agreeable price. I search incessantly until I find the right price. Sometimes I buy just the long direct part e.g. Chicago to Dublin (Aer Lingus always has lower fares than the other legacy carriers) with no plan to visit Dublin for more than a night and then fly on separate ticket to another destination in Europe.

What is the best way to protect oneself against losing money on airline tickets if an unexpected change is needed or if the airline shuts down service completely? I would prefer to book on American or Delta so that we have more choices if we need to use the credit but many of the flights are with international carriers.

Again buy only tickets that are 100% refundable. I have never needed or wanted to afford these since I have a lot of flexibility. The cheaper the ticket the less flexibility or refundability you have

Posted by
10291 posts

I'm going to give some advice that many of the experienced travelers will agree wth: Buy your tickets directly from the airline and NOT from a third party.

When you buy tickets from Expedia you are not buying your tickets from the airline. You are buying them from Expedia. A big difference.

In regards to the different airlines, they all belong to the same alliance and many may be codeshare flights. That's fine as long as you purchase from one of the airlines.

If you buy from Delta, and something goes wrong with any of your flights, they will be resposible for either offering you an alternative or a refund.

Personally, I think it is too early to buy tickets for next August.

Posted by
3655 posts

You should buy flights when the price matches your expected budget cost and you have been monitoring prices for awhile. There is no magic time.

I agree, buy directly from the airline.

Posted by
39 posts

As some have stated buy directly from the airlines website. Fares may be attractive with other sites but I like the protections provided by direct booking. You mentioned Delta Airlines as a possibility. Currently it does not charge change fees for domestic or international flights but it does adjust for fare differences when doing so. I avoid the basic economy fare since it provides no opportunity for changes or refunds. I do not know American’s details. Now is probably not a good time to purchase. But it’s a great time to begin searching and waiting.

Posted by
938 posts

I personally think there is going to be a lot of variability with fares over the next few months due to the US just reopening to the world. Airlines are going to be shaking out new schedules and there's always the possibility of catching a sale this far out (although who knows this year, I'm watching but not counting on sales). I have booked anywhere from 3 months to 6 months out, not much earlier than that, though. I'd set some alerts and watch fares closely over the next 3-4 months then get ready to buy when you see a fare that looks good to you. DO NOT purchase through a third party site.

Posted by
19504 posts

I agree with the other responses but want to emphasize that it is not uncommon to end up on two different airlines when you don't have a non-stop flight. I don't let that stop me when I am pricing flights on Google Flights. However, there have been one or two occasions when I couldn't get a seat assignment on the second airline (not the one I bought the ticket from) until about 24 hours before departure. This doesn't always happen, but it does in some cases. I have always ended up in a seat that met my preference (regular Coach on the aisle), but it's a bit concerning, and it would be more problematic, psychologically, if I were not a solo traveler. Since it's the seat on the transatlantic flight that really matters, the issue can be avoided by buying the ticket from that airline. Sometimes, unfortunately, that will cost $25 - $50 extra (or conceivably more), so you have to decide whether the peace of mind that comes from knowing you'll be able to choose your seat right away is worth the extra money. The issues I've had have been with tickets purchased from United when the overseas flight was on a European airline (not all of them). Keep in mind that the super-low Basic Economy fare class (which goes under different names on different airlines) doesn't ever allow early seat selection.

Once I decide where I am flying and approximately when, I look at the options and identify the ones that don't have too tight or crazy-long connections and do not involve commuter airlines (I refuse to take those). I then check the fares on those acceptable flights nearly daily. Sometimes I look more than once a day. It takes very little time to do that on Google Flights. When I spot a significant difference in fares, I write down the date and the new fare. By doing that over a period of time (it's usually one or two months, but it could be longer as uncertain as things are now), I get a sense of what the typical fare is and can pounce if there's a sudden, worthwhile drop. Equally important, I will spot big upswings that most likely will not stick and avoid buying while the fare remains high.

One pattern that seems to hold true is that as you get closer to the date of travel, the gap between the bad routings (the ones taking way long because of very lengthy layovers, etc.) and the good routings (non-stop or with sane connections and layover times) expands significantly. If you care a lot about avoiding an unnecessarily long flight and refuse to spend lots of extra hours en route, you are well advised to buy your ticket a bit farther ahead. (No, I cannot tell you precisely what "farther ahead" means.)

Unfortunately, the travel situation is really messed up right now, with flights being added and many flights being canceled or rescheduled. The great deal you find and pounce on now may not actually exist when the time comes (so keep checking your ticket locator online to be sure there hasn't been a change the airline has not notified you about). Or you could settle now for the best of the rather unattractive options and then find that two or three months from now there are better flights on the schedule. It's a difficult time for all of us.

Posted by
75 posts

We have our tickets for a fall 2022 trip to Italy and got a great deal. We got them through a travel agency recommended by the RS group. I don't think I can name them here or the specific travel agent, but they are great. Call the RS office and ask for a recommendation. They are worth the time and money.

I want to emphasize what others are saying about buying airline tickets through a third-party site. Don't do it. It is often more expensive and you lose the flexibility to change flights if necessary. We were burned a couple of times before we learned our lesson. Again, I recommend using a good travel agent.

Posted by
12568 posts

A travel agent is still a “third party” for booking airline reservations. If you want to change anything, or have a problem, it is the agent that will have to deal with it—-you cannot work with the airline yourself. Granted, a respected travel agent is likely to do a better job at this than Expedia, Orbotz, etc., but it is still something to consider.

Posted by
934 posts

In addition to the information above....

I usually fly Delta. Delta is currently offering no change fees. I bought tickets for upcoming flights in May and September, 2022. I bought as Carol above recommended, when the flight cost matched what I was willing to pay. If the the flight costs reduce, I can modify my tickets to the new price and get a Delta credit. I can use the credit on a future trip. Of course if you aren't traveling regularly and the credit expires, this won't be helpful.

Posted by
550 posts

You can book at 330 days out from your return flight. We go to Europe yearly and we are going twice in 2022 because our recent trips canceled because of Covid. We ALWAYS book MultiCity tickets (fly in and out of different airports) to prevent having to circle back. We know what we usually pay to fly over each year, so we start looking at our 330 day mark. We also only book directly with the airline (Delta, American Airlines, Turkish Air, Lufthansa). We already booked our flights to Germany and Switzerland for Sept/Oct 2022. We started looking at prices at our 330 day mark = we are flying into Munich Germany and out of Zurich Switzerland - when we started looking, prices for the Comfort+ seats were $1280 (we norm pay anywhere from $1100 to 1400 for coach) - 3 days later, the price was $890 for Comfort+ --- so we booked and are very happy with that price and the upgraded seats. So, your booking window is certainly open - I'd start looking and book when you are happy with the price. We canceled 3 flights these last 2 years with NO issues. We also always have trip insurance. Don't use Third Party sites.

Posted by
165 posts

Ditto always book directly with the airline. If there is an issue (cancelled/rescheduled flight, etc.), you can deal much easier with the airline. Reddit r/Flights is full of horror stories re: 3rd party mess-ups.

You can use Google Flights to monitor prices. Also the Hopper app can give you alerts and price predictions. Predictions were more accurate pre-Covid. We have to live with that and take our chances.

I start looking as far out as booking are available watch for possibles. Last December I scored September departure United Mileage Upgrade Award flights PDX-SFO-FRA-BLQ outbound and FCO-FRA-SFO-PDX inbound with Polaris Business seats on the transatlantic legs for about $2500, even without premier status. Tragically, I had to cancel the trip (but not because of Covid). Not likely to see that again!

Posted by
23 posts

I wish I pulled the trigger last month on my flight. It was $890 for comfort plus and now is $1496. My flight is in August 2022 and multi city. . I’ve been checking, I don’t live near a major hub so flights are less frequent. I can drive. 2 plus hours to a major hub. I like to have something booked at least six months out especially since I want to make hotel reservations.

Posted by
7824 posts

To add redundancy to what has already been said, buy directly from the airline.

EDIT- balance of original comments deleted as they have been deemed incorrect; do not want to spread misinformation.

Posted by
33 posts

Being flexible on departure/return dates really worked for us. We're flying SFO to FCA connection at CDG. Changing from a Friday to a Thursday departure saved us $900 and a lot of grief in both the CDG connection and the FCA arrival. Darn, another day in Rome!

Posted by
165 posts

@joe32F: Re: flights on Delta, Air France, etc. Those airlines are part of the Sky Team alliance and "code-share" their flights. It wasn't Expedia that cobbled the flights together. You would see the same combination if you were booking directly with any of the three airlines. The same flight may show as different flight numbers for any of several different airlines, e.g. DL 123 may be the same flight as AF 456. You may see several different flight numbers cycle through on the departures board at a major airport on the same line for the same time and destination city.

Assuming you booked all on one ticket, everything works seamlessly. Your boarding passes may all say Delta on them but they will work just fine boarding the Air France plane. Your bags will get checked through.

Sky Team members include: Delta, Air France/KLM, et. al.

One World members include: Alaska, American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, JAL, et. al.

Star Alliance members include: United, Lufthansa, Air Canada, Swiss, TAP Portugal, et. al.

See https://thepointsguy.com/guide/airline-alliances/.

Nb. Best to book directly with the airline. If there is any issue, working through Expedia or other third party service can be a major hassle.

Posted by
482 posts

Our planned trip is in May. I started looking at flights and they are just terrible. There used to be direct flights from JFK or another major city nonstop to Venice. Now there is a layover, (that’s 2 for us since we have to get to JFK). Prices have gone from $1,100 to over $1,500. Very discouraging.

Why do you think there are no direct flights? Do you think they will add them soon?

Posted by
3655 posts

Lulu, no answers to whether the airlines will increase their routes. I do wonder if you need to expand your search with some other options that include both the departure city and the arrival city. What if you left from Chicago instead? What if you landed in Rome or Milan instead? The time to get to Venice on a train can't be any more than the time for another stopover. I don't know if you will get better options or not, but I would certainly expand my search.

I just priced a non-stop from New York to Milan on Delta for two random dates in May and found a price of 978 RT. Only you know if this would work for you. I think you may just want to play around with your searches for a bit.

Posted by
482 posts

Carol, thank you. We were flying open jaw, arrival in Venice and departure from Rome. Our hotels and tour packages are all booked. Thinking outside the box may be what we have to do. Not to excited about arriving in Rome and taking a 3.5 hour additional trip. Delta just opened a nonstop from JFK tomRome in May but it was close to $2k I think! Outrageous! There are 4 of us, so looking for reasonable rates.

Posted by
934 posts

I booked my flights for a May, 2022 in September, 2021. Premium select for $2,000 minus $500 in Delta credit, so $1500.

I was checking the costs today because as I mentioned above, if the cost goes down, I can rebook the tickets and get the difference in another credit.
To my surprise, my tickets are now being sold for over $4,000!!
I am pretty happy I bought the tickets when I did.
Now we just have to wait and see what The Virus has in mind.

Posted by
55 posts

I booked our Air travel for next Fall RS tour through American Express Travel. I think the pent up demand for travel is going to result in higher airfare. I thought the prices were fine and locked in fares as well as seat assignments.

In addition, I booked and paid for hotels for days we aren’t on the tour. The euro is 1.13 , so I wanted to lock the exchange rate in now.

Posted by
691 posts

It is fine to buy your tickets 4 to 6 month in advance. 4 months in advance is probably adequate. I like google flights. After you find good flight schemes on google flights or some other plane ticket sights, make a list of the airlines that can take you across the Atlantic that appear in the best flight plans you see. Separately search the websites of these airlines. Look for the best combination of price, length of layovers, departure times in the USA and in Europe, and total trip times. Take notes on which flight from which airline looks best to you. Do this again every day or every other day for at least 2 weeks before you finally settle on which tickets you want, before you finally take out your credit card and buy the tickets.